Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 1 image

Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 1

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[This year, I'm planning to go through the Heidelberg Catechism - in my opinion, the most helpful confessional overview of Christian doctrine other than the ecumenical creeds - every Sunday, using the fifty-two Lord's Days in which the catechism was originally structured. The document dates from January 1563, and if you don't know it already, you really should. You can find the full text here.]

Q1. What is your only comfort
in life and in death?

A1. That I am not my own,
but belong—
body and soul,
in life and in death—
to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.
He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven;
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.
Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.

Q2. What must you know to
live and die in the joy of this comfort?

A2. Three things:
first, how great my sin and misery are;
second, how I am set free from all my sins and misery;
third, how I am to thank God for such deliverance.

[Five things I love about that opening. First, it starts with assurance, which is as close to a Reformation touchstone as you’ll find, but without being polemically anti-Catholic. Second, it’s answered in the first person, which gives the whole catechism a very warm, human, pastoral flavour (contrast Westminster’s equally famous, but less personal, “What is the chief end of man?”) Third, it is formally and theologically Trinitarian. Fourth, it has a more charismatic note than you might expect from a Reformed confessional document: freedom from the tyranny of the devil, being watched over by the Father, and having assurance through the Spirit are all themes you would not be surprised to find in a Pentecostal sermon. Fifth, it simply asks the right questions. What is my only hope in life and death? What must I know to experience the joy of this comfort? Given the certainty of death and the apparent futility of life in the light of it, those are both questions that all people, whatever they believe, are asking; and that makes it a superb place to begin a set of questions on Christianity. The answers, which occupy the next fifty-one Sundays, are pretty good too.]

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